Friday, 18 November 2011

The Katydid and Its Relatives

The Katydid and Its Relatives

A. Hyatt Verrill

From Popular Science; Dec, 1898; researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, Nov 2011

There are probably few American boys or girls, who, on calm summer evenings, have not listened to the oft-repeated, rasping cry of "Katy-did," "she didn't," "she did," "Katydid," issuing from the dark foliage of the trees. But no matter how curious you may be to learn what Katy did, or did not, do, you will never know, for even when daylight comes and you succeed in discovering the singer, hidden among the leaves, or perchance some belated individual hopping slowly along the sidewalk or fence,—the secret will still remain hidden, beneath the beautiful and delicate green wings.

The music of the Katydid is produced by quite an elaborate arrangement of veins and membranes near the wing-coverts, which, when rubbed together, cause the queer sounds. These musical organs are found only in the male insect, the female being silent, or at best, only capable of producing a short, clicking sound, in response to the loud love-song of her mate. Although the song of the Katydid is usually associated with darkness, it is nevertheless a fact that these insects sing during the day. The daytime song, however, is quite different from that of the night time, being a short, rasping chirp, which the most imaginative person could not possibly twist into the semblance of "Katy-did" or even "she-did." At times, however, the singers mistake day for night, and it is quite comical to hear them suddenly change their tune when a dark cloud obscures the sun, immediately resuming their daytime song when it has passed.

The notes of the Katydid sound out of all proportion to the size of the insect, and there are two species found in the West Indies that are particularly remarkable for the volume of sound they produce. One of these, known to the natives by the name of "Anvil bird," makes a sound precisely like that caused by the blows of a blacksmith's sledge, even the ringing vibrations of the hammer on the anvil, between the blows, being perfectly reproduced. These "Anvil birds" sing as much in the day as at night, and their loud, clear, metallic notes, when suddenly breaking the deep silence of some tropical jungle, are quite startling. The other insect known as "Crak crak," though but little larger than our common Katydid, makes a sound resembling its own name rapidly repeated, in so loud a tone as to lead the hearer to believe the insect a veritable giant.

The katydids are all handsome and interesting creatures and are easily kept in confinement where they thrive on a diet of fruit and cake, and when thus kept will never tire of repeating their assertion that "Katy did," from nightfall until dawn, for the benefit of their master or mistress. One Brazilian species of katydid, known as the "Tamana," is frequently kept in small cages by the natives, because of its flute-like song, which is greatly admired and is really wonderfully sweet and musical. There are a number of species of these insects common in the United States, although their songs cannot all be translated to anything concerning "Katy," the notes of many varieties consisting of only a short, rasping sound, like the song of a grasshopper; and while the majority of them are pale green in color there is one New England species entirely brilliant vermillion or crimson red. This most beautiful creature, unlike his relatives, who live only in trees, feeds chiefly upon low shrubs and plants, and is fond of the sandy woodlands near our northern Atlantic seacoast.

Anybody who has ever seen a Katydid must have noticed the resemblance that the wings bear to leaves, and in some cases this likeness is very striking indeed, the most remarkable examples of mimicry among insects occur in the katydids of Central and South America. The folded wings of these creatures are not only veined and shaped precisely like the leaves on which the insects feed, but even the little holes and scars, made by tiny insects upon the real leaves, are reproduced to the minutest detail on the wings of the katydid. Moreover, when at rest, these " walking leaves," as they are called, keep the body close to the branch, elevating the folded wings and stretching out the long, slender antennae, in such a manner as to very closely simulate the real leaf stems in all particulars.

The katydids all lay their eggs in neat rows, or bunches, upon the leaves and stems of their food-plants. The young resemble their parents except that the wings are rudimentary, not attaining their full growth until the skin has been shed at least five times. After each molt, the little creatures seem possessed of an enormous appetite, in fact, so hungry are they that they fall to and devour their own cast-off skins. If you watch katydids you may perhaps observe that in many of their ways they seem like overgrown, green grasshoppers; and, in reality, our katydid friends are first-cousins to these gay jumpers as well as the migrating locusts, whose swarming millions have time and again left death and famine in their wake.

The insects known as "locusts" in the eastern states, however, and whose shrill, long-drawn, quavering note is heard only on the hottest of midsummer days, are not real locusts at all, but cicadas, belonging to the order of Hemiptera, while the true locusts, grasshoppers, and katydids, as well as cockroaches and crickets, belong to the Orthoptera. This last order also includes the insects known as "Praying-mantes" or "rear-horses," whose appearances belie their actions, for unlike their locust and katydid relations, who feed only on leaves and fruit, the mantes are fierce and bloodthirsty, killing and devouring any other insect they can overpower with the aid of their strong, hooked fore-feet and powerful jaws.

Many of the mantes, like the katydids, imitate leaves and flowers. One species from Borneo exactly counterfeits, both in size, shape and color, the flower of an orchid thus luring many an unsuspecting butterfly within reach of the hungry jaws. Another member of this curious order, is the "walking-stick" a strange, lifeless-looking insect of which there are several species found in the United States. The "walking-sticks" not only greatly resemble the twigs among which they pass their lives, but more remarkable yet, their color changes with that of the leaves. In the summer the body is dark green, which in autumn turns to reddish or purple, gradually deepening as the season advances, until, when the first frost comes, and their short life is over, they drop to the ground with the dead leaves, whose colors they so closely match.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.